COVER STORY: Colorado Built
Tent camping discomfort lead to this home-built, Bronco-themed teardrop
- by Bob Phillips -
Mike Hahn’s story has a familiar ring to it. As years roll by, sleeping on the ground in a tent often loses its appeal. Not wanting to give up camping, or spend big bucks on a fancy RV, a teardrop camping trailer seems to be a logical step. For a guy who enjoys building things, there’s the allure of taking on the challenge of building a teardrop at home from scratch. You’ve read similar stories here before.
It was a family camping trip to the Colorado mountains in the summer of 2016 that started the Hahns thinking about teardrops, as Mike tells it. There was excitement as they prepared for the trip since they hadn’t been camping for many years, but it took only one night to convince them they would prefer something more comfortable. Mike’s wife, Christina, even spent the second night sleeping in their mid-sized SUV.
“It was the summer of 2016, on a camping trip with my wife, Christina, our son Evan (16), daughter Leila (6), and my wife’s cousin and his family, at Eleven Mile State Park in the mountains of Colorado,” Mike related. “We had set up camp, had a great first day and were bedding down for the night. My son had his own tent, borrowed from our cousin, and Christina, Leila, and I were sleeping on a blow-up mattress in the other tent. It had been years since we had been camping. During the early years of our marriage, I was in the Army stationed in Texas. Since we both had family in the Midwest, we used to do a lot of road trips, pulling off the highway at small camp sites for the night with a small two-person tent to sleep in, since we were strapped for cash. Being young, sleeping on the ground didn’t really affect us. Fast forward 22 years, and it was a completely different story!
“I remember it was rather windy that night, and my wife and I were awakened many times by the sounds of the tent flapping back and forth with the wind. When we got up the next morning, Christina and I were exhausted from tossing and turning all night. I remember her saying, ‘I am not sleeping in that tent again tonight!’ So the next night, she proceeded to setup a bed in the back of our Dodge Journey. Needless to say, she got a much better night of sleep than the previous night.”
It was Christina who suggested that a teardrop would be more suitable for camping. She had seen them online and liked what she saw. She even told Mike that he could build it. Mike agreed to tackle the project and several months later began the build. He learned that a buddy at his workplace was building a teardrop and started picking his brain about the process. The friend even loaned Mike his build plans. After carefully reviewing those plans, Mike said it became apparent that many revisions would be necessary.
“One morning, in the early days of January 2017, I left the house and told my wife that I was heading to Harbor Freight to pick up a utility trailer. The look on her face when I returned home with two rather large cardboard boxes was priceless. She looked at me and said something to the effect of ‘it looks like your building this teardrop out of legos!’ I laughed it off, knowing that it would all come together.
“I went with the plan’s template side profile starting out and then did a lot of research online to get a feel for what worked for people versus what didn’t. I wanted to build a teardrop that looked as professionally built as possible.
“There were a few challenges. Modifying the frame required a lot of welding, something that I had very little experience doing. That was a bit intimidating. The biggest challenge I had was the hatch. I thought I had designed a hatch that would fit perfectly. Once I put it in place, the top half looked and fit perfectly, the bottom ended up three-quarters of an inch off. That was a major disappointment. I literally spent two weeks trying to figure out how to fix the issue without building a new hatch. One day it came to me. The only reason the hatch wouldn’t close had to do with the trim I chose to seal it. I ended up shimming the hatch with quarter-inch ply, reinstalled the plywood sheet, skin and trim and was able to correct the issue.”
Mike always had a project going on, often building something from a picture Christina found. One thing he learned early on from his dad was to have the right tools for the job. When it came to the teardrop, having the rights tools made the build a lot easier. Mike said spending a few extra dollars on a specific tool makes a big difference.
“The build process itself was both fun and challenging,” he said. “This was by far the most aggressive project that I have ever taken on. As the pieces started to fall into place, I started seeing opportunities to add aspects that I hadn’t seen on other teardrops. While working on the frame, I wondered what I could use for a battery box. I wanted the battery up front, towards the tongue, but didn’t know how I was going to build the battery box. During this brainstorming process, a thought came to me. About a year prior to starting my build, my sister had sent me a vintage 1950s aluminum beer cooler that was my late father’s. I thought it would be a nice tribute to them to incorporate the cooler. I liked the fact that it added a bit of nostalgia to the look of my build. I am really glad that I figured this out early on, as I had to fabricate and weld brackets onto the frame to ensure a secure fit. I realized early on that you really have to think four steps ahead while building to ensure that everything falls in place down the line.
“While building the cabin, I tried to pay attention to detail to the flow of the inside. I selected birch plywood for the walls, ceiling and doors, and white pine for the shelving. I came up with adding ambient lighting for the interior by way of sconces, with LED light strips hidden behind them. It provides a really subtle lighting effect, while not using too much power. Christina suggested adding a pass through door into the galley, which turned out to be an awesome addition. It was something we hadn’t seen in other tears.
“The floor came together by way of a friend replacing the flooring in his house. He gifted me enough three-quarter-inch Indonesian hardwood to do the main cabin and galley floors, which really took the look to a whole new level. It was installed prior to the wall insulation and interior skins being added, to ensure that all of the lines looked as clean as possible. I decided to build custom doors, since the guy who loaned me his plans also gave me the old doors off his build, which included the windows and door handles, for free! The doors took some time, but turned out nearly perfect. I added side tables that attached to the doors inside for added counter space.
“For the galley, I also used Birch plywood for the side panels, as well as white pine and birch for the cabinetry. We decided not to go too overboard in the galley with things like a sink or grill, since we also plan to take the teardrop tailgating to a few of the Denver Broncos home games each year when we are not camping. The cooler in the galley was heavily modified and given a bit of a facelift to don the Bronco’s markings. The strut bases have a “D” and “B” for a bit of added subtlety without going too overboard on showing love for our favorite team.
“I went with hidden LED lighting under the top shelf, as well as an LED light strip on the inner hatch to add bright lighting while not using too much power. I purchased a 45 amp WFCO series power center and converter, which is mounted in the galley, with the fuse panel installed for access from inside the cabin. I installed two 110 volt wall plates, one in the galley and one in the cabin, to be able to hook up to power. When plugged in, the inverter\converter also charges the battery. I installed a volt meter in the cabin to monitor battery voltage while camping. I decided to French-in the license plate into the galley hatch to add a more custom flare to the overall look and flow of the teardrop. I hadn’t seen this on any other tear in the past. I ended up with a really clean look that I was happy with.
“The exterior of the teardrop was skinned with .032” aluminum and wrapped with vinyl auto wrap. If I ever sell it, the next owner can re-wrap it to a color they desire. The wrapping process was very time consuming. I laid each piece of vinyl on a flat surface in the garage before adhering it to the aluminum. I went with the color blue to go with Christina’s orange Dodge Journey for that Bronco color scheme. All of the trim was ordered from Frank Bear’s Vintage Technologies. I built exterior side tables with attached drop-down brackets to hold them in place, which matched the interior side tables. A four-inch, capped PVC tube was installed on the front end, behind the battery box, to store fishing gear. On the back end, I fabricated two small bumpers, just to give it more of a finished look.
“When it came to naming the teardrop, Christina wanted to honor her dad who had passed away in 2017. He always went by JR growing up, so she thought it would be a fitting tribute to name the tear “Junior.” While visiting us some years ago, we were all sitting in our garage, which had been converted into a bar. On the back door, whenever someone new visits the bar they are required to sign the door. Christina handed her dad a marker, in order to leave his mark in our fine establishment. He simply wrote, “Let the good times roll -- Andy T.” That line was the perfect finishing touch to add to the back of the trailer. So from now on, once we load up the camper for a camping trip, we will do what he said, and let the good times roll!”
Although the trailer has been finished for over a year now, the Hahns have yet to take it on its maiden voyage. The Colorado Springs residents have two trips planned for this summer, somewhere in the Colorado Rockies, where they will park alongside a roaring stream, set up their gear and enjoy the great outdoors.
“Who knows, maybe it will motivate me to build an even bigger teardrop next time around,” Mike said. “I am really looking forward to see how this teardrop holds up in the mountains; to see if all of the detail and hard work pays off!”